Personal

Los Angeles International Airport

I arrived here at LAX a short time ago. Check-in was a breeze. I think it took all of about ten minutes to use the kiosk, get my boarding pass and get through security. I didn’t actually realize that you could use the kiosks for international flights, but you just select your flight, enter your first, middle, and last name, then passport number and off you go.

The staff seemed a little overwhelmed though. They have to come by to take your bags and so they can put the tags on; obviously, they don’t need as many hands on deck as the old days, but the still seemed a bit overworked and tad frantic. Pleasant enough experience.

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Los Angeles

Departure -1 and Counting

Tomorrow I shall depart for England and I hope to be able to convincingly and effectively convey the journey in photos and these diary entries. I do hope that it will be as enjoyable for one to read as it will be for me to experience and to write along the way.

It will of course be my perspective, and as Churchill once said:

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

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Los Angeles

Another one of the other more fascinating responses that I got to my letter of introduction was from a friend here in Los Angeles whose grandfather’s best friend was Sir William Samuel Stephenson CC MC DFC (January 23, 1897 – January 31, 1989).

He was a fascinating character. Here’s part of what Wikipedia has to say:

“A Canadian who fought in W.W.I with the Canadian Army Engineers, then transferred to the British Royal Flying Corps in 1917, after learning to fly while he was recovering from being gassed in 1916. Stephenson flew the British Sopwith Camel fighter biplane and scored twelve victories before he was shot down and captured by the Germans on July 28, 1918.”

The entry goes on to say that in the lead up to Second World War, he became a wealthy industrialist and

“As early as April 1936 Stephenson was voluntarily providing confidential information to the British, passing on detailed information to British opposition MP Winston Churchill about how Hitler’s Nazi government was building up its armed forces and hiding military expenditures of eight hundred million pounds sterling. This was a clear violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and showed the growing Nazi threat to European and international security; Churchill used Stephenson’s information in Parliament to warn against the appeasement polices of the government of Neville Chamberlain.”

After the Second World War began Winston Churchill sent Stephenson to the United States on 21 June 1940 to covertly establish and run the British Security Coordination (BSC) in New York City, more than a year prior to the US entering the war.

The BSC office headquartered in room 3603 in Rockefeller Center became an umbrella organisation that by the end of the war represented the British intelligence agencies MI5, MI6 (SIS or Secret Intelligence Service), SOE (Special Operations Executive) and PWE (Political Warfare Executive) throughout North America, South America and the Caribbean.

In his role as the senior representative of British intelligence in the western hemisphere Stephenson was one of the few people in the hemisphere authorised to view raw Ultra transcripts from the British Bletchley Park code-breaking of German Enigma ciphers.

He was trusted by Churchill to decide what Ultra information to pass along to various branches of the US and Canadian governments.”

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Los Angeles

Here’s the letter that I emailed out to my contacts this past weekend:

———————-

Dear friends, family, and colleagues,

As many of you know, if we’ve spoken recently, I’ll be taking a trip at the end of the month with The Churchill Centre and the International Churchill Society called, ‘Churchill’s England’.

There will be 50 of us on this educational holiday visiting historic sites and meeting scholars, some of his family members, and his former associates. We’ll be spending eight captivating days together immersed in retracing the steps of the former Prime Minister.

Several highlights on the itinerary are:

  1. A private tour of Parliament courtesy of The Hon. Nicholas Soames, MP.
  2. A tour of the new Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms with curator Phil Reed.
  3. An afternoon  at the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge with director Allen Packwood.
  4. Paying a visit to Churchill’s former country house Chartwell, including a discussion with curator Carole Kenwright and Minnie Churchill. Also, possibly joining us at Chartwell will be Churchill’s last private secretary from 1952-65, Anthony Montague Browne and his wife, who live nearby.
  5. We’ll be finishing off the trip with two black-tie dinners, first at Blenheim Palace which is the ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston. The second will be at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford.

Many other historically significant stops await us along the way about which I hope you will find interesting reading.

I’ve been looking forward with great anticipation to this historical journey and I’m inviting you to come along as well. I’ve created a travel journal blog just for the occasion and will have journal entries from the pre-planning of the trip, through each of the day’s activities.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with blog’s, they are merely a way on the Internet to create journal entries along with photos and links to other web sites. It’s quite easy to read and navigate through and you are welcome to post comments if you like. It will be displayed in reverse chronological order, newest first, down to the oldest pre-departure entries.

I’ll be departing for England on May 18th and the official trip will begin on Saturday May 20th, so if you like please come along on this journey with me.

All you have to do is click:

In the Footsteps of Churchill

Remember what Sir Winston said at Bris­tol Uni­ver­sity, where he was Chancellor:

 ‘The most important thing about education is appetite.’

See you in England.

 

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Los Angeles

The first time that I decided to read a book specific to a city that I was visiting was while I was in Florence three or four years ago. I found it was a brilliant and much more engaging experience to be in the midst of reading a volume about Michelangelo’s creation of the statue of David Il Gigante by Anton Gill while being in Florence and visiting the Academia to view his magnificent work. Through the course of my stay, I would walk to a particular square or landmark, as it was being discussed, and would sit on the steps or in a café nearby and thoroughly enjoy being present in the precise spot where the story was unfolding.

I decided that this was a practice I was going to continue on every trip that I would take from that moment on.

I’ve read a number of books about Sir Winston Churchill, but never a complete biography. So, for this trip, I decided on one of the two definitive biographies of Churchill. The one I decided upon was by Roy Jenkins. It’s about a thousand pages long and I decided I would start preparing by reading a month before leaving on this trip. I determined that I’d like to be just about midway through the book, completely immersed in the life of Sir Winston, as I depart for my journey to England. I just finished page 365 yesterday, so I’ve got about 100 pages or so to go prior to leaving on May 18.

The other definitive biography of Sir Winston was written by Sir Martin Gilbert. I didn’t realize that Sir Martin would be along on this trip and that I would get a chance to meet him; otherwise, I probably would’ve decided on his biography, instead of the one currently reading. Gilbert’s biography is considered the ‘Offical Biography.’

I went to Barns and Noble a couple of months ago and I looked both of these biographies over and decided that I liked the first paragraph of Roy Jenkins book so much, I decided to purchase it.

The first chapter begins with:

“Churchill’s provenance was aristocratic, indeed ducal, and some have seen this as the most important key to his whole career. That is unconvincing. Churchill was far too many faceted, idiosyncratic and unpredictable a character to allow himself to be imprisoned by the circumstances of his birth.”

Well, that was enough for me; I had to continue reading to find out how his life unfolded. I am thoroughly enjoying the book, though it is taking a little extra research on the side in order to understand more about the parliamentary system, with which I am somewhat unfamiliar. So, a good learning experience all around.

I’m also finding that cross-referencing some of the events that are taking place in this biography with another book that I purchased a recently, ‘Speaking for Themselves, The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill,‘ is a wonderful way to get multiple perspectives. ‘Speaking for Themselves’ was compiled by one of their daughters, Lady Mary Soames [whom I am also looking forward to meeting on this trip]. It’s a wonderfully intimate portrait of a 57-year love affair… and political partnership.

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Los Angeles

Time for some early preparations. I’m counting down the twenty days left before departure —all very exciting indeed!

I’ll be leaving on May 18, 2006, and flying from Los Angeles directly to Heathrow on United flight 934. I’ve been planning now for weeks about what to pack and organizing everything for my departure. The trip includes two black-tie events and each member of the travelling party is limited to two pieces of luggage so it’s going to take some smart packing.

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In the autumn of 2005 I received a package from The Churchill Center in Washington DC announcing plans for a trip to England, “Churchill’s England: The 12th Churchill Tour”.

It’s interesting the timing because in the last year I’ve been thinking a lot about educational holidays. Yes, it’s nice to go and you see the sights and treasures of of a new city but in my travels I want to mix in educational experiences and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

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I’ve always had a keen interest in the great leaders of history. I’m fascinated by what makes some people ordinary and others extraordinary. For as long as I can remember I’ve had had an immense admiration for Winston Churchill partly because of the fact that he had to overcome great obstacles in order to achieve his extraordinary successes.

I spend as much time as possible reading with a particular focus on history and biographies.

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